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Droopy Drawers Drive Va. House To Distraction

By Marc Fisher
Thursday, February 10, 2005; Page B01

RICHMOND

Attention, parents: The state of Virginia understands that you lead busy lives, but lawmakers are confident that you will be only too happy to tack just one more task onto your morning routine -- a quick pants check as the kids head out the door.

The House of Delegates voted 60 to 34 Tuesday to impose a $50 fine on anyone found wearing pants low enough that a substantial portion of undergarments is showing. Note the vote: It wasn't even close.

Marc Fisher can be reached by e-mail at marcfisher@washpost.com or by phone at (202) 334-7563.

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Sure, it will be difficult to guarantee that your kids' pants stay secured around the waist all day, but there are ways to protect your offspring from exposure to police action and resulting fines. I suggest duct tape or, in extreme cases, super glue.

Virginia yields to no state in its protection of individual rights. This year, the legislature has stood tall against the threat to freedom posed by the use of cameras to enforce the law against running red lights. Lawmakers made certain that Virginians would not be barred from entering a day-care center with a loaded gun. And the House is poised to reject an effort to restrict teenagers' use of cell phones while driving.

But there is an odd gap in Virginia's protection of your liberties. Somehow, these same legislators are only too happy to get inside your marriage, your bedroom and even your pants.

The General Assembly, which in recent years passed bills banning same-sex marriage and prohibiting civil unions and other partnership contracts, feels compelled this year to add a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a bond between a man and a woman.

This week, by a 71 to 24 vote, the House approved a proposal by Del. Dick Black (R-Loudoun) requiring the state to investigate all Virginians who want to adopt a child to see "whether the petitioner is known to engage in current voluntary homosexual activity or is unmarried and cohabiting with another adult."

Maybe those deactivated red-light cameras can be repurposed for these important investigations.

About those pants: Lots of kids these days are conducting a large-scale experiment to see if trousers can defy gravity. This results in the widespread public exposure of underpants.

This greatly offends Del. Algie Howell Jr., a Democrat from Norfolk and author of the no-low-pants bill, which still faces a vote in the generally more skeptical Senate. "People that live in my neighborhood don't want to have to see undergarments," Howell told me. "It's not about individual rights; it's about values. I own a group home; we take in kids who've been in trouble. Most of the men who come in in shackles and handcuffs are trying to hold up their pants. The way you dress does have something to do with how you behave."

Since the state has an interest in fighting unemployment and crime, Howell figures the state is right to ban a practice that he says makes young people less attractive as employees and more likely to turn to crime.

Del. Lionell Spruill (D-Chesapeake) tried to sway his colleagues against the pants bill by reminding them of their own wacky fashion choices of yore. Amid much laughter about miniskirts, bell-bottoms, long hair and polyester pants, Spruill urged: "Let these kids express themselves. It will pass on."

That didn't work, so Spruill switched arguments: "This is a bill that will target blacks. They're going to stop those kids for one reason and then do other things. This is another way to lock up black people in jail."

But Del. Jack Reid (R-Richmond) replied, "Underwear is called underwear for a reason." While the clothing excesses of past generations were "not offensive," low-riding pants reflect "the coarsening of this society," he said.

Whereupon, the House voted to ban drooping drawers.

Surely there must be some logic that explains why self-professed conservatives will stop at nothing to protect our rights regarding guns, cars and property, but think nothing of poking into our bedrooms and examining our undergarments.

"You're looking for consistency?" said Del. Brian Moran (D-Alexandria). "As long as it matches their views, they're more than happy to get into our lives. Searching for intellectual consistency won't get you anywhere."

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